The Top 100 St. Louis Football Cardinals (20-11)

With the NFL celebrating its centennial season in 2019, the league will soon be announcing its top 100 players of all-time. I thought it would be fun to look back and rank the Big Red’s top 100 players who played in St. Louis.

The Cardinals moved from Chicago after the 1959 season and played 28 years in St. Louis before Bill Bidwill moved to the desert in 1988. Several great players played under the arch during this period including four Hall of Famers.

These rankings are only based on the player’s time spent in St. Louis. Consideration was given to the player’s statistics, All-Pro/Pro Bowl selections, team leadership, and impact in the community. It is next to impossible to compare eras, so many of these picks were very difficult.

The Top 100 St. Louis Football Cardinals of All-Time: 20-11

20. PAT TILLEY (WR)

Pat Tilley was like Denny’s. He was always open.

Pat Tilley played 11 seasons for the Big Red and retired as the second leading pass catcher in team history. The Louisiana Tech product was the Cards 4th round pick in 1976 and shared the team rookie of the year honor with Mike Dawson. Tilley scored his first NFL touchdown in the ’76 season opener against the Seahawks. Teammates Mel Gray and Roy Green got all the headlines, but Tilley led the team in receiving from 1978-1982 earning one Pro Bowl appearance in 1980. He started every game but one from 1978-1985. His best season was in 1981 when he caught 66 passes for 1040 yards and three TDs. Tilley finished his career with 469 receptions, 7005 yards and 37 touchdowns.

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Where Are They Now: Tom Banks (Conclusion)

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The conclusion of my interview with former Big Red All-Pro center Tom Banks. Tom talks about his final years in St. Louis, his adventure into the USFL, today’s game, and his health, and retirement.

Where Are They Now? Tom Banks (Part 1)

Where Are They Now: Tom Banks (Part 2)

Q: Bud Wilkinson was hired after Don Coryell left in 1977. It was a rough couple of years for the Big Red in 1978/1979. What are your memories of Coach Wilkinson?

Banks: I don’t know if you saw this, but I was quoted in the paper saying, “insanity prevails.” (laughing) I thought it was a good laugh. But I really liked Bud. He was in a bad situation and he knew it right away. He did everything he could to change it, but there was just nothing he could do. Bud went in there and really tried to make things better. But, in the Cardinal organization, back in those days, you had to change their (management’s) attitude toward the players. And Bud learned pretty quickly that that wasn’t going to happen. So, I really think that he got so frustrated, he kept going in there trying to work with management and saw no results. Bud was really a good guy, and I know it was very frustrating for him, but it got to the point where he said the wrong thing to somebody and they told him to pack his bags and he was gone. But, he was trying to do the right thing.

Q: J.V. Cain was a future star tight end for the Big Red. He missed the ’78 season with an injury and then tragically passed away on the field in training camp in 1979. Tell me a bit about J.V. and your memories of that practice.

Banks: Actually, I was holding out here in Birmingham when J.V. passed away. I came up for the funeral, of course. J.V. was just a wonderful man and a great player, but I feel to this day, he was a better person than a player. Just feel so strongly about that. For that to happen to him… we all realized it could happen to any of us. That’s a sobering feeling. He had learned a lot from Jackie (Smith) and having them both there for a few years was terrific. But on his 29th birthday? I mean what a shock for all of us. I’ll never forget that Dan (Dierdorf) called me and told me and I just sat there and cried. He was one of the good guys.

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J.V. Cain

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Where Are They Now: Tom Banks (Part 2)

11-6-77 Tom Banks at Minny

Part 2 of my interview with former All-Pro center Tom Banks. We discuss the Cardiac Cards and his teammates. Yes, there will be a Part 3, as we spent another 25 minutes on the phone again on Friday!

Where Are They Now? Tom Banks (Part 1)

Where Are They Now: Tom Banks (Conclusion)

Q: Let’s talk about the Cardiac Cards and the offensive line. You guys set an NFL record by allowing only 8 QB sacks in 1975 and you also blocked for the NFC’s leading rusher that season, Jim Otis.

Banks: It was a great offensive team. We had great receivers, Metcalf and Otis in the backfield, plus Steve Jones was the third back who came in on short yardage situation that gave us some real power. The main thing was Jim Hanifan put this group together. It was my sixth year, Dan’s fifth, Conrad’s fourth, Bob Young had been around awhile, and Jim developed Roger Finnie to take Ernie’s (McMillan) place and it was just a really good offensive line. We started running the ball consistently up the middle and we had outside ability so it really opened up the passing game so much because they had to play the run first. When you have to play the run, you can’t pin your ears back and rush the passer. The main thing is we worked to get that running game better every day. You know, people talk about wanting to emphasize running the ball effectively, but it comes down to one thing. You’ve got to get down and dirty every day. And it’s hitting, and now I don’t think they put pads on during the week, but that’s the only way to do it.

Q: Talk about some of your fellow offensive lineman. You mentioned Bob Young earlier. How about Conrad Dobler?

Banks: Conrad got cut in training camp in 1972 and we reminded him of it all the time. He was a defensive lineman in college and had no experience playing offensive line. He had no technique. He tried to do things the way the coaches told him, and he didn’t do very well, so they let him go. We had some injuries and he came back a couple of weeks later. He decided he was going to kick somebody’s ass every day. And that’s what he did! (laughing) Our defensive guys hated him. They hated practicing against him. Conrad’s theory was “I tried it your way and it didn’t work, now I’m going to try it my way.” And he knew one thing. “If I kick this guy’s ass across from me, someone’s going to pat me on the back and say good things about me.” And that’s what he did.

Dobler and Banks

Tom Banks and Conrad Dobler

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Where Are They Now? Tom Banks (Part 1)

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Tom Banks is arguably the greatest center in Big Red history. He was a team leader and outspoken critic of management which made him a fan favorite during his playing days in St. Louis. Banks tells it like it is (and still does) and the fans loved him for it. The All-Pro center was drafted in the eighth round out of Auburn in 1970 and played 11 seasons for the Cardinals (1970-1980). After missing his rookie season due to a broken ankle, Banks became one of the top NFL centers in the mid-70s anchoring an offensive line that only gave up 8 sacks in 1975. He earned Pro Bowl honors from 1975-1978. I recently spoke with Tom about his time at Auburn, his days in St. Louis, and finishing his career with the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL.

Where Are They Now: Tom Banks (Part 2)

Where Are They Now: Tom Banks (Conclusion)

Q: Tom, tell us a little about your father, Tom Banks Sr.? I understand that he was a pretty good ball player himself.

Banks: My dad came out of WWII and went to Jones Junior College in Mississippi. It was impossible to get a scholarship to a major school because of all the veterans coming back from war. He was an undersized offensive lineman at 185 pounds, but he became a Junior College All-American. He took a year off to work in the steel mill when I was born and said it was the best decision he ever made because it made him realize to value education.  He went to Auburn in 1949 and earned a scholarship. He played in the first Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL in 1951 and I was in the stands sitting on my mom’s lap. I was only 2 and a half years old. Later we became the first father-son to play in the Senior Bowl (Banks played in the 1970 game).

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The NFL, Concussions, and Marijuana

According to a study in 2017, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was found in 99% of deceased NFL player’s brains that were donated to science. CTE has been linked to repeated blows to the head which is, obviously, is very common among NFL players, in particular, offensive and defensive linemen.

Last year, Jeff Meyers, who covered the Football Cardinals in the early 1970s for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and former Big Red Pro Bowl Center, Tom Banks, collaborated on an unscientific study of 23 former pot-smoking Cardinals who regularly lit-up during the season and sometimes before games. Meyers became curious of how they were doing after watching the movie “Concussion” in 2016.

The results of the “anecdotal evidence” were published in the Winter/Spring 2017 edition of O’Shaughnessy’s, the Journal of Cannabis in Clinical Practice. The story has been re-printed below with Mr. Meyers’ permission. While most of the players wanted to remain anonymous, a few such as Conrad Dobler,  Dale Hackbart, and Banks shared some of their experiences with concussions and how the use of marijuana helped them cope with injuries.

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BIG RED ALL TIME TEAM ANNOUNCED

Almost 3000 votes cast for Big Red greats.

The St. Louis Football Cardinals called St. Louis home from 1960-1987 and although they didn’t enjoy a lot of success on the field, they definitely had their share of great players and characters. From Hall of Famers Jackie Smith, Larry Wilson, Dan Dierdorf and Roger Wehrli to Jim Hart, Conrad Dobler, Roy Green, and Terry Metcalf.

Facebook and Twitter fans recently had the opportunity to vote for the All-Time Big Red Team. Some may argue that this list should be called the All-Time Favorites Team, but I think the fans did a good job overall. Unfortunately, many players from the 1960s era didn’t get a lot of votes, but I’m guessing it’s because most Facebook and Twitter users are too young to remember the great offensive line of the 60’s like Bob DeMarco, Ken Gray, Irv Goode, and Bob Reynolds. However, Jerry Stovall, Pat Fischer, and Dale Meinert were voted to the team as well as Hall of Famers Jackie Smith and Larry Wilson.

The All-Time team is led by head coach Don Coryell who coached the Big Red from 1973-1977. The team was known as the Cardiac Cardinals as they always had a knack of coming from behind late in games. The Cards had 8 games decided in the final minute of play in 1975 and won seven of them. Coryell led the Big Red to NFC East Titles in 1974 and 1975.

The offense is led by #17, Jimmy Hart who is still the Cardinals all-time passing and TD leader. O.J. Anderson and Terry Metcalf were voted as the top running backs. O.J. is the all-time Cardinal rushing leader and there was no one in the NFL more exciting than Terry Metcalf in the 1970s. The most competitive position was wide receiver. Roy “Jet Stream” Green was the top vote getter, followed by the speedster Mel Gray and sure handed Pat Tilley. Of course the Hall of Famer Jackie Smith was voted the top tight end in a landslide over the late J.V. Cain. The offensive line is dominated by the group who only gave up eight sacks in 1975. Tom Banks was voted as top center, Conrad Dobler and Bob Young are the guards and Dan Dierdorf and Ernie McMillan are your tackles.

While the defense may not have as many big-names as the offense, there are two Hall of Famers in the secondary. The defensive line is represented by three members of the 1980s Cardinals. Al “Bubba” Baker and Curtis Greer who combined for 54 sacks in 1983-1984 are the defensive ends, and David Galloway and Bob Rowe are the defensive tackles. Former number one draft pick E.J. Junior was the top vote-getter at linebacker, followed by Larry Stallings, and a tie between Dale Meinert and Mark Arneson. Hall of Famer Roger Wehrli and Pat Fischer are the cornerbacks and Hall of Famer Larry Wilson and Jerry Stovall were the top vote-getters at safety.

The Cardinals all-time leading scorer, Jim Bakken was voted to the team as the kicker and Carl Birdsong the punter. Terry Metcalf edged Stump Mitchell as the all-time kick/punt returner. Metcalf set numerous NFL records returning kicks in 1975.

Congratulations to the All-Time Big Red Team members!

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